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Celebrating 105 Years
June 10 & 11, 2023
Livermore Rodeo History
No history of the Livermore Rodeo would be complete without mentioning that in 1918, World War I was still raging. The Red Cross was in dire need of funds, so California cities and towns were assessed. Livermore's quota was $1,200, which was quite a large amount at that time.
John McGlinchey, president of the Livermore Stockmen's Protective Association answered the challenge by proposing that a rodeo be held to earn the money. He appointed a committee, consisting of Joseph Concannon, Chairman, and James Gallagher, John Flynn, A. W. Ebright and Charles Graham to help with planning the event. They would work with the officers of the Stockmen's Protective Association including John J. Callaghan, Peter Connolly, Patrick Connolly, H. T. Holly, M. C. Mulqueeny, and Peter Moy.
A portion of the James Anderson ranch, located near what is now 580 and Portola Ave. off-ramp, was the logical choice for the location of the rodeo, because there was a natural basin for holding stock and a rim that served as elevated seating for spectators. A fence was constructed around the basin to form the arena. Circus seats were leased. Cars were allowed to park in the back of these seats and many people watched the rodeo from their cars.
From eye witness accounts, the Grand Entry was a most thrilling event. Two horses posed at the top of the hill east of the arena. Christine Thiel was on a white horse and carrying the American flag. James McGlinchey, on a bay horse was carrying another flag. At a given signal, the horses raced down the hill - the white horse in the lead. At the foot of the hill, many other horses followed the first two into the arena forming a colorful grand entry. Much of the stock came from local ranches, but some was brought in from other areas. Due to the efforts of the Livermore G. F. Madsen, proprietor of the Bell Theater, Universal Studios filmed the event. The newsreel was shown throughout the country - Livermore was on the map!
The success of the first rodeo led to the formation of the Livermore Stockmen's Rodeo Association in April 1919. The association selected 15 acres of the Callaghan vineyard on Lizzie Street (now Livermore Avenue) and sold stock or script for $25 a share to purchase the land. Many local people, including ranchers and business, bought shares; some redeemed later but many have kept them to this day.
Construction of the center section of the grandstand and some bleachers, which together held 2,400 seats, were completed for the second rodeo, which was held on July 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1919, an was described by the Livermore Herald as "the most successful rodeo ever held in the west." In early years, the show was always held on the 4th of July plus the weekend immediately following or preceding the 4th - hence the show ran from two to five days.
For the first few years, there was no Public Address System, so the announcing was done on horseback with a megaphone. Those with the best vocal chords were "Foghorn" Murphy and later Ike Latimer followed by Abe Lofton. From 1930-1965 with a P. A. System and sometimes on horseback, came Livermore's own Bud Bentley. Professional announcers were hired from then to now.
During the early years there were many local riders. But even in those days, many top professional riders and performers were attracted to the show. All were seen on movie newsreels.
Those in charge worked hard and gave generously to insure the success of the show and the satisfaction of the spectators and the participants as well. John McGlinchey would send two header wagons out to the Mourterot Ranch and buy hay so that the many cowboys that stayed at his home would have feed for their horses. His wife Elizabeth and her daughters fed all the cowboys at the huge table in their kitchen.
The Spanish influence was emphasized in these early rodeos. In fact, "old timers" still say "Ro-day-oh" while others pronounce it as Ro-dee-oh. The show was well advertised, and people dressed in either Spanish or western attire. Trips to Oakland and San Francisco were planned. Groups would parade down the streets in costume carrying signs announcing the date's of the rodeo. They were accompanied by riders on horseback.
Once the Oakland Auditorium was used as a hospitality house and "mini" rodeo museum. Rooms there were decorated and staffed with people serving refreshments to all who attended.
Rodeo time was "Big Time" in Livermore; everyone was getting involved in some way. The local merchants were glad to have the influx of people and dressed "western" weeks preceding the show. There were decorations everywhere. Barnard Mouterot remembers going out to the Ruby Hill Winery to cut palm fronds to decorate the light poles on First Street. Banners were strung across First and Second Streets, and on Lizzie Street out of the rodeo grounds.
Many store fronts had rodeo scenes painted on their windows and stores were decorated. It was a colorful display. Weeks earlier, the men in town started growing beards for the "Whiskerino Contest." High school students were an important part of advertising. Photographers from the Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner would take pictures of the girls in western or Spanish garb. These pictures were used for publicity purposes. Later the girls were ushers at the show. Their "pay" was free admission. High school boys placed advertising posters along the highways from Livermore to Stockton and to San Francisco, and on the Dunbarton and Antioch bridges.
Rodeo Week was also "Carnival Time" in Livermore. In the early years, the carnival was held on J and K Streets as well as on Second Street. There were many booths. Vacant lots and south of Second Street were used for rides. Later the carnival moved north of First Street and south of Railroad Avenue. Street dances were held at night on J Street between First and Second. On one occasion, there was a dance at Sweeney Ballroom. Adding to the revelry, the "Hoosegow" or jail on wheels would travel First Street daily looking for anyone not wearing some form of western or Spanish attire. If caught, a person was "locked up" for his "crime" by traveling Main Street in the "Hoosegow." There was always a parade on the 4th of July with many floats, marching units, bands, decorated automobiles and other motorized or horse drawn attractions, plus of course, riders on horseback.
In addition to this "Big" Parade, there was also a horse parade at 12 or 1 o'clock each day of the show. The horses paraded east on First Street, turned south on Lizzie Street (Livermore Ave.) and went out to the Rodeo grounds, where they entered and took part in the Grand Entry. All of the participants received free admission to the show.
May 1, 1921, marked the first time that the rodeo grounds were used for a community event other than a rodeo, when a May Day Fete was held for all the schools in the Livermore-Amador Valley. A California Frontier Days Pageant was part of the entertainment at the 1921 Livermore Rodeo. Other community events followed through the years. For example, in the mid 1930's all of the rural schools in South Alameda County gathered at the grounds for a physical education "playday."
As the Rodeo proved to be a financial success, land acquisitions and improvements continued. More seating was erected and all grandstands were covered. More chutes and holding pens were built. The barn of the 143rd Field Artillery, which was located on what is now Pacific Avenue, was acquired. It is still being used for community events. In 1948 the Association's holdings had grown to 40.5 acres.
The well earned slogan "World's Fastest Rodeo" was first used in 1935. Speed had always been an important factor. There was a track around the arena where many events were held. This included cowboy and cowgirl races, relay races where cowboys or cowgirls changed horses at each station, and Pony Express races, where saddles as well as horses were changed. There were Roman races where one rider stood astride two horses with one foot on each horse. In addition to the races, there was trick riding, trick and fancy roping, steer decorating, stockhorse contests, hackamore class, silver mounted competition, competition for best horse and working outfit. Simultaneously, inside the arena there was saddle bronc riding, bull riding, "double roping," "single roping," steer wrestling, amateur team roping, steer decorating and wild cow milking.
Keeping with the original patriotic spirit of the first show, those held in the war years were used for Navy relief.
This history brought to you by Kathryn Laughlin and Leona McGlinchey. Excerpt and photographs are from the 1993 Livermore Rodeo program.
Photo descriptions in order of appearance: John McGlinchey, "Father" of the Livermore Rodeo - Photo courtesy of Kathryn Laughlin. Hugh Walker, T.W. Norris, Glen Smallcomb, Ray Bernhart, and Mike Callahan - Photo courtesy of Lois Walker. 1918 Parade's Horseless Carriage and City Cannon - Photo courtesy of Madeline Henry. 1926 "Main Street" Fair - Photo courtesy of Jerry Deck.